[UPDATED DECEMBER 14, 2017]
Today in a 3-2 vote, ( the same margin it was initially approved with) the Federal Communications Commission approved a measure to scrap the tough net neutrality rules it put in place just two years ago during the Obama administration. Those rules prevented internet providers from blocking and throttling traffic and offering paid fast lanes. They also classified internet providers as Title II common carriers in order to give the measure strong legal backing.
This week, while people visit relatives, share meals, suffer through uncomfortable political discussions, and trample each other in department stores, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be curating their plan to roll back net neutrality. With their final meeting only a month away, the FCC will be revealing the latest details on their proposal tomorrow. The initial proposal draft was published in April of 2017. In the month that followed, the draft received around 2.6 million comments. The FCC then published another proposal in late May; however, they made few major changes.
Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Federal regulators this week are expected to unveil their plans for reversing Obama-era rules that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally, a move that could fundamentally reshape the internet economy and consumers’ online experience.” While the official proposal will not be publicized until tomorrow, Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, announced today that next month, the FCC will be officially voting to get rid of net neutrality.
As it stands now, broadband providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T must treat all websites and online services equally. But, the new proposal could change all of that. What this would mean is that some companies could potentially pay for “fast lanes,” meaning that their content would load faster than others who did not pay. Additionally, these broadband providers would be able to prioritize their own content, while hindering their rivals’. Many internet providers, over the years, have gained control over much of the country’s media. Comcast owns NBC Universal; Verizon owns Yahoo!; Time Warner owns Warner Bros. and 10 percent of Hulu. Even this week, the U.S. Justice Department is suing to block the Time Warner-AT&T merger. Without net neutrality, a company like Time Warner could give priority to Hulu over Netflix. Or, Netflix could pay for a fast lane, leaving startup streaming services in the dust.
Supporters of this new net neutrality proposal view it as a reduction of government authority. Pai explained his reasonings to PBS: “My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handing economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income urban and rural areas, for example.” Pai cites an unspecified study by “a highly respected economist” that said that investment is down by 5.6 percent for the top 12 Internet service providers over the last two years, or since these strict regulations were enacted. However, a two-year sample doesn’t provide a lot of data to work with. Some speculate that the dip in investment also involved high oil prices and costly acquisitions.
Regardless, this is not an issue that is to be taken lightly. It has the potential to completely change the makeup of the internet. While it may be a coincidence that the FCC is publicizing their final plan the week of Thanksgiving, they might be trying to avoid the full attention of consumers. However, if you feel passionate about this issue, contact your representative. Heck, you can even go straight to Ajit Pai himself. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org; his phone number is 202-418-1000.